Two Delightful Recipes From Chain Ganger Megan Zanitsch

Thankyou For A Lovely Gift.

In recent days I received a lovely gift, a book of ‘favourite recipes’ by Megan Zanitsch, a Chain Ganger who cycled with us in Tuscany. The book is called ‘As Thyme Goes By’, and I asked Meg to pick out some of her favourite recipes that are particularly ‘French’ or ‘Italian’.

The Chain Gang isn’t just about cycling, food figures in there too. We try hard to introduce distinctive regional cuisine wherever we can – that’s easier in Burgundy and the Dordogne than it is in Bordeaux or Paris, but it’s a key feature for me that we showcase regional specialities.

Of her suggestions, I’ve chosen two that are favourites of mine, ‘Ribollita’, the classic Tuscan soup, and ‘Boeuf Bourguignon’, perhaps Burgundy’s most famous dish.

I enjoy ‘brandade’ in Provence because it relates to the historical trade of salted cod with Brittany, and I always have ‘confit de canard’ at least once when I visit Dordogne. Ribollita and boeuf bourguignon fall into the same category – when in Tuscany or Burgundy, find somebody off the beaten track that makes these dishes and enjoy yourself, because you surely will. Of course, if you come cycling with The Chain Gang, we’ll find that somebody for you!

Please join me in forgiving Megan her American measurements: 1 cup, from my cursory research, is about 8 fluid ounces, 240 ml, or just under a half-pint; a 10 3/4 oz tin is just a normal-sized tin, not a big one, not a little one.

I’d love to hear from anyone who tries one of Megan’s recipes – I’m certainly going to. If you click on the title of the recipe, you’ll be taken to a PDF that can be printed off for ease-of-use.


(Click recipe title above for printable PDF)
Wherever you go in Tuscany you’ll find ‘Ribollita’ on the menu. It is a classic traditional Tuscan dish, the name is derived from the Italian for ‘reboiled’, it’s a soup made from leftovers, particularly yesterday’s bread, and white beans. So the ribollita that you see in posh Tuscan restaurants isn’t really authentic, but I nearly always choose it because of its place in Tuscan cuisine and history.

The way the recipe has developed may not be an authentic soup made from leftovers, but it is delicious, a distinctive soup and worth making acquaintance with. Here’s Megan’s version:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
2 cups onions, minced

1 carrots, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1 cup of leeks, chopped fine
1 hot chili pepper, chopped
2 medium ham hocks
1 lb (454g) white beans

2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped fine
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
10 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
8 slices Italian bread, toasted
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 small onion, sliced thin

Soak the white beans overnight and drain.

In a gallon stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add
the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, leeks and chili pepper. Sauté for 2
minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ham hocks and sauté for 1
minute. Add the beans, rosemary, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir in the
chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about
two hours or until the beans are tender. Remove the ham hock, thyme sprigs
and bay leaves.

Using a hand-held blender, puree half the bean mixture. Pick the meat from
the ham hocks and return the meat to the bean mixture. Season the beans
with salt and pepper.

In a sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the crushed garlic cloves
and chopped thyme and simmer for 1 minute to infuse the oil. Remove the
pan from the heat and discard the garlic. Stir half the olive oil mixture into
the bean mixture.

Line an ovenproof tureen with the toasted bread slices. Sprinkle the bread
with half of the cheese. Ladle the bean mixture over the toasted bread.
Cover the bean mixture with the onion slices, the remaining infused oil and
cheese. Place the tureen in a 375 degree oven and cook for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve.

Recipe Notes
La ribollita is a Tuscan bean soup au gratin style, On our bike trip to
Tuscany in 2008 we sampled several versions of this soup in small village
cafes and found it to be a delicious and filling meal. A green salad or fruit
is a perfect accompaniment.

Serves: 8

Boeuf Bourguignon

(Click recipe title above for printable PDF)
Burgundy has given us many famous dishes: coq au vin, escargots (snails), pain d’epices. There are other regional specialities, favourites of mine but perhaps not as well known outside Burgundy, such as ham persillé or oeufs meurette. But I don’t think it’s contentious to suggest that Burgundy’s most famous dish is Boeuf Bourguignon, which basically translates as beef, burgundy-style.

Like the ribollita, this is an ancient dish, and although most recipes say ‘red wine’, you can bet that’s supposed to be burgundy. And the cows we see on our Burgundy tour are the beautiful charolais, so I’m guessing that truly authentic ‘bourguignon’ uses charolais. Traditionally the bacon was used to ‘lard’ the beef, a time-consuming job for reasonably accomplished cooks, and not really necessary – beef these days contains much more fat, and is better ‘marbled’ than in previous centuries. Nowadys it’s used because it tastes delicious and makes preparation easier – exactly as outlined in Meg’s recipe.

Megan’s version is a great recipe. Although the cooking time is quite long, it’s actually quite a simple dish to make, but it’s delicious, and it’s a genuine Burgundy classic, so enjoy:

6 slices bacon
3 pounds chuck steak
1 large carrot, peeled & sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 10 3/4 oz. can condensed beef broth
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
½ pound pearl onion, peeled
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
½ cup red wine


Cut the bacon in ½ -inch pieces and fry in a skillet until crisp. Remove to a
paper towel to drain. Cut the beef roast into l-inch cubes.

Add the beef cubes to the bacon grease and brown well. You may have to do this in
batches. Move the browned beef cubes into a large pot.

Brown the carrots, onion and garlic in the bacon grease. Season with 1½ teaspoons
salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Stir in the flour. Add the broth and stir well. Add the
vegetable mixture to the pot with the beef.

Add the cooked bacon, thyme, tomato paste, bay leaf and pearl onions to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 3 hours.

About 1 hour before serving, sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter.
Stir the mushrooms and red wine into the pot. Continue to simmer.
If needed, to thicken the gravy, cream ¼ cup flour and 2 tablespoons of
butter. Add to the pot. Bring to a boil until thick.

Serve over hot buttered noodles.

Recipe Notes
This recipe can also be made in a crock pot. If doing so, cook on low for 8
to 10 hours.

Serves: 8

If these recipes make you think of Tuscany and Burgundy, you can see dozens of photos on our Flickr galleries:
1. Tuscany gallery on Flickr

2. Burgundy gallery on Flickr

And if you want to read about our tours, click these links to our Tuscany and Burgundy itineraries.

Share this article